Writing about war stories came naturally British writer Lara Feigel who has spent a lot of time familiarising herself with the literary 1930s. “My own family had a rather worse war-time, and perhaps growing up with these tales of war being almost unmentionable is what drew me towards this ‘easy-going’ war where you could drink cocktails and at the same time as being bombed,” she explains.
Feigel, a lecturer at the King’s College, London, has written extensively on that era, “Having worked on that broad period, I was intrigued with the writers of that era. I started investigating their lives and just out of curiosity and found that coincidentally they all had these extra ordinary war time love affairs,” she adds.
And so her most recent book, The Love-Charm of Bombs is not a collection of tales from the bitter war, but rather love stories of the writers who wrote those tales of the Second World War. “I later realised that it wasn’t a coincident, but rather it was the war that created this unfortunate time where each moment sort of expanded because it could be their last. And this intensity enabled them to fall in love, sort of lower their defences and allow the kind of vulnerability that you need to fall in love,” she narrates much eloquence.
“I particularly loved works of Graham Greene, Hilde Spiel, Henry Green and Elizabeth Bowen. But the books I loved the most were the one’s they wrote at the end of the war that conveyed particularly charged moments that gave their literature lyricism and reality that the war didn’t always have,” she continues.
On being asked why she chose to tell the story of the lives of these five particular writer, Feigel explains, “The four English writers in my book were, of course, the ones I loved the most, and also because they’d all had jobs in the civil defence services, which means they were out on the street real time. As for the Austrian writer, I was in her archives and found these set of letters and diaries that she wrote everyday. They were so moving, but mostly they were so ordinary. It was that ‘ordinary’ life that people can relate to. She had small child and she was afraid of being bombed, and was also sort of less privileged than the others, which I think provided a perspective on their lives.
Of course, a lot of people who’ve experienced the war are still around, and the all have stories to tell, some even of lost love. “When ever I meet someone and they tell me they or someone they know lived through the wars, I do often ask if they fell in love, and they do often answer with a yes,” she shares.
But does she see similar stories emerging from the ongoing conflicts of the present day? “The reason these people managed to have a happy time amid the bombs was because there was sense of winning or hope of the war ending. That is not the case with the conflicts of today, where the wars have become much more one sided. Besides, people then were also more privileged, unlike those in the conflict zones today who have worse time,” she answers. “But I do think the kind of love is more universal; you love more intensely if you believe it is your last day,” she concludes.